U.S. Water News Online
MILFORD HAVEN, Wales -- Human error was largely to
for the grounding of the oil tanker Sea Empress off the coast of Wales last month,
resulting in one of the worst oil spills in history. Lack of government readiness
to deal with such an emergency has been blamed for compounding the environmental damage
caused when millions of gallons of oil from the tanker caused an oil slick at least 50 miles
Some 20 million gallons of crude oil spilled during the eight
days it took salvage workers to get the 77,350 ton tanker into Milford Haven
estuary on the southwest coast of Wales. Dutch and British salvage companies
managed to remove the remaining 16 million gallons of oil from the disabled
The spill, nearly twice the size of the Exxon Valdez spill
gushed 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, has
been called one of the 10 worst oil spills ever.
British conservationists have termed the oil spill an
catastrophe for the Milford Haven estuary, expressing concern
for wildlife here, and noting that this is one of Britain's most important
wildlife conservation areas. The St. Anne's headland and the nearby coast
and islands form one of Britain's leading havens for guillemots, flumars,
gulls, shags, cormorants and other sea birds, as well as dolphins and gray seals.
Environmentalists say the oil slick from the spill surrounded
two islands that are home to seals and thousands of birds before the spill
was contained. Some 3,000 seabirds have died, and that number could increase
as tens of thousands of others fly into the area to breed in coming weeks,
"It is the worst environmental disaster we have ever seen,"
said Joan Edwards of the Devon Wildlife Trust Fund. "Milford Haven looks like
a holocaust -- dead birds, shellfish, and worms are littering the area."
"We have moved from a very serious incident to very close
to disaster," said Tony Prater, deputy officer in Wales for the Royal Society for
the Protection of Birds, who added that the management of the salvage process
was clearly "inadequate."
Critics said the spill could have been lessened if a more
tug had been at the scene ready to tow the damaged tanker off the rocks.
When the Sea Empress ran aground, Britain's two most powerful tugs were stationed
elsewhere, according to Clare Short, a spokeswoman for the opposition
"This spillage should never have happened," said Paul
Horsman, head of the Greenpeace environmental group's oil campaign.
"You are talking about Britain's busiest mainland oil port, and there
was no oceangoing tug of the power required stationed there."
A 1994 report recommended that Britain's coast guard acquire
powerful tugs for just such an occasion.
Britain has ordered an inquiry into the accident, but Ron
the opposition Labor Party's spokesman for Wales, said legislators
from his party are seeking an outside investigation, saying the government's
investigation will not be independent enough.
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